China plans 2,500 digital screens

CFG chooses e-cinema projectors

SHANGHAI — Stage-backed distrib the China Film Group will have 2,500 digital screens up and running on the mainland within five years.

But they will be e-cinema projectors rather than the Hollywood-approved digital projectors.

An announcement by CFG general manager Yang Buting reported by state-owned news agency Xinhua on Tuesday suggested that 500 digital cinemas were being planned for urban areas, with 2,000 for rural areas.

An industry source agrees the figure of 500 is possible. “Five years is a long time. At the moment, the short-term plan is to have between 100 and 200 screens by the end of 2005.”

He went on to say that the 2,000 rural screens would almost certainly be one-chip e-projectors rather than industry standard d-cinema. “China gives about 16 million yuan (just under $2 million) annually to poor rural areas to buy 16mm projectors, which travel round showing local kung fu and romance. The new electronic projectors are part of the same low-cost initiative, using a new format.”

Electronic projectors will allow the screening of DVDs as well as high-definition and regular television to areas where even TV penetration is low.

China’s last digital upgrade came in November when CFG reported that it had signed a deal for 20 new projectors. Seven of those projectors are already in place. The rest will be set up by mid-month, bringing China’s number of d-screens to 54.

Sources suggest that a deal for a further 100 digital projectors may be announced by CFG during this year’s ShoWest event (March 22-25).

Yang said that about $24 million is already in place to take construction through to the end of this year.

Even wide film releases in China only go out on 300 prints, a small fraction of the country’s 2,000 theaters. Many rural areas wait for up to two years to see films on poorly maintained prints. Digital cinema is an attractive option for the vast country.

China Film Group is a government-owned company set up by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television five years ago. It has interests in distribution — as one of only two companies sanctioned to distrib imported pics — as well as production.

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